Italy in Covent Garden – Rigoletto, Jamie’s Italian and Risotto Croquettes

Billboard Outside the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden)

Jamie Oliver may be English born and raised, but he knows Italian. Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden, one of his three London restaurants and one of his many Italian establishments, is a hop-skip away from London’s Royal Opera House (AKA Covent Garden).

The Covent Garden neighborhood, now popular for its restaurants, shops, theaters and St. Paul’s Church as well as the Opera House, originally housed the fruit and vegetable market for the city.   The produce market, developed in the 1600s, remained for three centuries, until 1974, when it was moved further south.   The original Covent Garden market structure remains adjacent to the Royal Opera House.

Inside the Royal Opera House

We were heading to the opera to see Verdi’s Rigoletto, so Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden was not only convenient but nicely rounded out our day’s Italian-in-London theme.  We were not disappointed in the food or the opera.

A Handsome Man Waiting for his Companions Outside Jamie's Italian

Jamie’s Italian – Covent Garden provided a fun atmosphere, great outdoor seating away from the busy traffic,

Outdoor Seating at Jamie's Italian - Covent Garden

and friendly and efficient service (oh so important – especially when you are on a schedule),

Regitze, Our Cheerful and Excellent Server

as well as creative and delicious food.

My main course was a slow-cooked wild rabbit ragu and pasta, that was served with simplicity and crisp flavors.  My starter was Arancini (Risotto Croquettes).  The croquettes were beautifully presented, cooked to a nice crisp and well seasoned.

I was reminded that it had been ages since I made these whimsical Italian delights.   And since Jamie wasn’t available to share his recipe, I’m providing my own 🙂

Fontina-Stuffed Risotto Croquettes

Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 4-6 appetizer servings (depending on pieces/per person)
Yield: 16 balls

1/4 cup onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces rice, arborio
3/4 cup wine, white
2 cups stock, chicken
to taste salt
to taste pepper
1 teaspoon lemon, zest
1 large egg, yolks, beaten
1/2 cup cream, heavy
2 ounces parmesan, reggiano, finely grated
8 ounces fontina, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
2 egg
1/4 cup water
1 cup flour, all purpose
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, dry Italian or Panko
oil, canola, for frying
2 cup tomato sauce, fresh
sage or basil, for garnish


1. Chop onions into a fine dice.  Melt butter in sauté pan over medium heat and add onion.  Saute (sweat) onions until soft and translucent (not brown).  Add uncooked rice and stir 2 minutes until rice is costed. Add white wine and stir gently until wine is nearly evaporated. 

2. Add chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time, waiting each time until most of the stock is absorbed by the rice.  While stock is evaporating, stir gently, scraping rice up from the bottom of pan.  Cook until rice is firm but tender, adding a bit of water at the end if necessary to complete the cooking.  

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.   Add lemon zest. 

4. Remove rice from the pan and place in shallow bowl or glass/stainless pan.   Let it cool about 5 minutes.

5. Mix beaten yolk with cream and add to the rice mixture.   Add parmesan cheese.  

Rice Mixture Ready for Chilling

Cover rice with waxed or parchment paper and cool completely in the refrigerator.   When rice is cool, shape into balls using about 2 tablespoons of mixture per ball.   Press a cube of fontina into each ball and reshape to cover the cheese.  

Rice Balls Assembled, Stuffed and Ready for Breading


(Right-handed instructions, where your right hand is your “dry” hand)

  • Set up three bowls (usually left to right) containing 1) flour, 2) egg beaten with water (egg wash) and 3) bread crumbs.   
  • If rice balls (or any other item you are breading using this procedure) seem very moist, dry in paper towels.  
  • Place a ball in your left (wet or “messy”) hand and place it and give it a quick turn in the flour to coat.    With the right (dry) hand, lift the ball, fill in any uncoated spaces with flour and shake off excess flour (do not pat the flour into the ball as this will make it too thick).  
  • Still using your right (dry) hand, place the ball in the egg wash.  With your left (wet) hand, roll the ball and coat with egg wash.   With your left (wet) hand, move the wet ball to the dry bread crumbs.  
  • Now, switch to your right (dry) hand again.   Coat the ball with bread crumbs (using only your right, dry, hand) by rolling in the crumbs and gently patting.   Pick up the ball with your right (dry) hand and move to a tray.  I like to place items on parchment paper to be sure they do not stick to the tray.
  • Using this method, you will keep the flour and bread crumb bowls relatively dry, and you will have a dry hand for shaping the final ball.  Trying to shape dry bread crumbs with a wet, eggy hand is not very workable as the crumbs will tend to stick to your hand and not the ball.  The only other option is to wash and dry your hands in between rice balls, which is not very practical. 

Rice Balls after Standard Breading Procedure

7. Once your balls are ready to fry, heat vegetable oil in a heavy pan (I like enamel or porcelain-coated cast iron or simply cast iron) to a medium frying temperature (about 350 degrees).   Oil should be slightly deeper than 1/2 the height of the balls.   

8. Place balls in the hot frying pan.  Oil should be hot enough to get balls sizzling.  Cook on one side until a deep golden brown.  Gently turn each ball with wide tongs.  Fry on second side until deep golden and remove to paper towels to drain.  

9. Heat tomato sauce and place 1/3 cup of sauce in a shallow bowl.  Add rice balls and herb sprig for garnish.  

Fontina-Stuffed Risotto Croquettes

 Or you can place them in a cute little cone-shaped cup per Jamie Oliver, and serve the sauce on the side.  The croquettes are a bit more difficult to eat in the cup, but it makes a charming appearance at the table.

Also, while not traditional, I used Panko bread crumbs rather than Italian – simply because I love the Panko texture.  If you compare my croquettes (above) to Jamie’s, you’ll also see that the panko gives the croquettes a different texture.

Jamie Oliver's Risotto Croquettes (Arancini) at Jamie's Italian

Oh, and, in case you were wondering, unlike our delightful day and evening in London and delicious food at Jamie’s, Rigoletto’s story came to a tragic end – with the death of his beloved daughter, who meant the world to him.  Why aren’t there any operas with happy endings?!??

4 thoughts on “Italy in Covent Garden – Rigoletto, Jamie’s Italian and Risotto Croquettes

  1. Great post, J. When we were in NY last year, we went to the Met for La Traviata (wonderful!) but I have never been to a performance Covent Garden.

    We also have a Jamie’s Italian in Sydney (and they don’t take reservations which is a pain in the proverbial!), but make your own risotto croquettes? Oh yum! I may have to give this one a go. 🙂

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